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The church and homosexuality [July 12, 2006 {0516}; An e-Review Florida UMNS Commentary by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker]

The church and homosexuality [July 12, 2006 {0516}; An e-Review Florida UMNS Commentary by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker]

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

of the Gospel and the work of God. The admonition first appeared in the Larger Minutes and was copied into the early MEC disciplines. So what is the point? In order to enter a class, one had to be under conviction. The person was aware of God’s holiness and his or her need for grace. The person wanted to be saved from God’s wrath. Interestingly, when Methodist preachers spoke to crowds, the goal was not to get people saved. They knew that a sermon could not do that. Rather, the goal was to get people awakened so they would join a class where they would be discipled. Justification happened through one’s participation in the class and the society. A person who would not submit to the class, acknowledge his or her sin and seek to be transformed by grace could not be a member of the society. If one did become a member and it was discovered that the person was not growing in grace or was living in sin, the person’s class ticket was not renewed or the person was expelled. Some were returned to trial membership (probation). Membership in the society required a strict adherence to the discipline and a commitment to spiritual growth. Routinely, Bishop Asbury and the circuit riders purged the societies of people who were not using the discipline. For this reason, approximately four-fifths of the people who attended Methodist preaching never became members of the church or society. (See Without a Parallel, Reasons for the Expansion [and Decline] of Early American Methodism 1767-1812 (Payne 2001) and The Apostolic Nature of Early American Methodism (Payne 2005). John the Baptist and Jesus required repentance before one could be pleasing to God or enter the kingdom. Repentance requires that one’s heart be illuminated by the Holy Spirit to its sin and need for grace. It is a lifetime journey. Preaching is one means by which the church has attempted to help people encounter God through repentance. A practicing homosexual who does not repent or acknowledge a problem with his or her lifestyle may be deceiving him or herself about God’s approbation and grace. My conscience does not allow me to participate in that scenario. Even though I belong to a connection and have taken vows related to it; ultimately, I am answerable to God for my ministry and my conduct. However, a practicing homosexual who turns to the church and seeks to be transformed by his or her participation in it should be allowed to become a member. One wonders why United Methodism would want to extend full church membership to people who are not repentant or willing to acknowledge that they need to repent. It is regrettable that United Methodism has institutionalized membership. If Bishop Asbury visited a typical church and tried the congregation, many would be expelled. Perhaps we should ask a more fundamental question. Why do we have membership and what is the significance of it? How does it relate to the goal of discipleship? Respectfully,

Bill Payne
Conway United Methodist Church

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